I was crafting an email to my synagogue community about our upcoming Israel trip this June when my social media feed began erupting. Another terror attack in Jerusalem. Details are still emerging as I write these words with trembling hands and vision blurred by tears.
I write for so many reasons.
One of them is love. In this moment, it is so very important to reach out to my family across the miles, affirming with every beat of my heart and with sentence I type that our Jewish family is one, shattered hearts and all.
Another reason I write is anguish. More Jewish blood has been spilled, and response will be more Arab blood spilled. And on and on this dance of death continues, with the world cheering on either side and reporting the evil of either side and both sides burying children. I want to reject those who place blame for this attack on Palestinian leadership, but I cannot ignore Hamas’ call just yesterday for more attacks in Jerusalem.
Yet a third reason I pour out these words is that someone just asked me on a Facebook thread if this was an “Ultra-Orthodox place” that had been attacked. My response: It is only appropriate to see this as an attack on an identifiable Jewish place with Jews gathered. In this moment, we’re all the same. It was a synagogue. What kind doesn’t matter.
One last reason I’ll offer for this piece, though this list is certainly incomplete: Recently, someone attacked my Yom Kippur sermon this year, in which I called for strengthened Jewish unity and support for Israel. The accusation was that my call for the global Jewish People to remember our history and renew our tribal bonds was a form of “amoral familism.” And so I pause for a moment here – wounds freshly exposed by yet another senseless attack upon Jews in Jerusalem – to briefly reject the accusation.
Edward Banfield, a 20th century political scientist, coined the term “amoral familism” in his book, “The Moral Basis of a Backward Society,” in which he argued that a family-centric society sacrifices the public good for the sake of its members’ success. He suggested that the inability to work together to solve social problems robbed people of what he termed “social capital,” ie, the habits and attitudes that motivate people to work for the common good.
To my detractor, I offer the simple and profound reality that the Jewish family, far from univocal, has banded together and defied our historical vulnerabilities and traumas to create a force for good in the world, the project-in-process we call our home, the State of Israel. Yes, I oppose the Israeli extremists in the current parliamentary coalition, and yes, I cheer on the progressive voices in the current parliamentary coalition. But all of them are my family, all of us are weeping and raging today, and I refuse to allow someone to describe that as a lessening of our humanity.
I say with certainty and moral conviction that our strength as a Jewish family is a boon to the world, and that our Jewish tears for our own horrifying Jewish losses are tears any nation should shed for its losses. Were the Palestinians to learn from the kind of non-violent protests that changed America in the early days of the civil rights movement, Jewish and Arab tears would finally co-mingle as we together would cultivate the habits and attitudes that would allow us to see each other as fellow images of God. (Please God, may that day come soon.) But, despite all this suffering, no Israeli politician has called for Palestinian deaths. I don’t like everything every Israeli politician says, but there is no comparing the leadership of the Palestinian people and that of the Israeli people.
Today’s terrorist attack makes that clear. So did the Palestinian terrorist attack by car on Jerusalem’s light rail three weeks ago. So did the Palestinian stabbing of an Israeli man in Jerusalem’s Old City just days ago.
Is it “amoral familism” to grieve, act, and react as family to these attacks, just the last in a very long list in these past months (not to mention how they seamlessly fit into the course of Jewish history throughout time)? Not at all. Dismissing the common good for the sake of the tribe is not an accusation anyone has the right to place at the feet of Israel. The robust debate about the West Bank, and the post Operation Protective Edge debate in Israeli society makes clear that the common good of Palestinians and Israelis carries great weight with Israeli citizens.
And I cringe as I type these next words but dare not ignore reality: Where is the outrage of the Palestinian leadership at Jewish (and Druze and Muslim and Christian) Israeli deaths? Where are the Palestinian statements condemning violence? The immortal words of Prime Minister Golda Meir ring in my ears:
Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate ours.
I want Palestinian children to live. I want my children to live. This awful cycle of violence will only change when Palestinian leadership teaches Palestinians that every child deserves life, that “martyr” is just another word for “dead,” and that Jewish blood matters as much as Arab blood.
But, right now, I’m not dreaming of that heavenly day when every person will rest unafraid for their children’s lives. I’m just so very, very sad, so determined to strengthen my family, so aching for a peace that seems less possible, so traumatized by the attacks on Jews taking place around the world, so assaulted by images of blood on a Jerusalem synagogue’s floor.
When any Jew is in pain, every Jew around the world is in pain. We cry as a family. We act as family. We are family.
We are taught “Those who sow with tears shall reap with joy.” (Ps. 126:5) One day soon, please God. Please.